HANOI: Vietnam health minister Nguyen Thanh Long said on Saturday (May 29) the country has detected a new variant of the coronavirus, a mix of the COVID-19 variants from India and the United Kingdom that spreads quickly by air, online newspaper VnExpress reported.
After successfully containing the coronavirus for most of last year, Vietnam is now battling an outbreak that is spreading more quickly.
Nearly 3,600 people have been infected in 31 of its 63 cities and provinces since late April, accounting for more than half of the country's total infections.
"After running gene sequencing on newly detected patients, we have discovered a new variant that is a mix of India and UK ones," Nguyen Thanh Long was quoted as saying.
"More specifically, it is an Indian variant with mutations that originally belong to the UK variant," he said. VnExpress quoted Long as saying Vietnam would announce the newly discovered variant to the world soon.
Vietnam had previously reported seven virus variants: B1222, B1619, D614G, B117 (the variant from the UK), B1351, A231 and B16172 (the variant from India).
Laboratory cultures of the new variant, which is much more transmissable than the previously known types, revealed that the virus replicated itself very quickly, explaining why so many new cases appeared in different locations in a short period, Nguyen Thanh Long was quoted as saying.
Vietnam has registered 6,396 coronavirus cases so far, with 47 deaths.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified four variants of SARS-CoV-2 of global concern. These include variants that emerged first in India, Britain, South Africa and Brazil.
Officials at the WHO did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the variant identified in Vietnam.
Long said laboratory cultures of the new variant showed the virus replicated itself very quickly, possibly explaining why so many new cases had appeared in different parts of the country in a short period of time.
The Health Ministry told the meeting the government was working to secure 10 million vaccine doses under the COVAX cost-sharing scheme, as well as a further 20 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine and 40 million of Russia's Sputnik V.
The country of about 98 million people has so far received 2.9 million doses and aims to secure 150 million this year.